2019

Long List 2019

The 2019 Highland Book Prize saw over 88 books by 50 different publishers submitted and reviewed by a panel of 105 volunteer readers comprised of industry professionals and avid readers. 

We are delighted to be able to reveal the books on the Long List for the 2019 Highland Book Prize. They are:

Bird Summons by Leila Aboulela

published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson

Salma, happily married, tries every day to fit into life in Britain. When her first love contacts her, she is tempted to risk it all and return to Egypt.

Moni, gave up a career in banking to care for her disabled son, but now her husband wants to move to Saudi Arabia – where she fears her son’s condition will worsen.

Iman, feels burdened by her beauty. In her twenties and already in her third marriage, she is treated like a pet and longs for freedom

On a road trip to the Scottish Highlands, the women are visited by the Hoopoe, a sacred bird whose fables from Muslim and Celtic literature compel them to question the balance between faith and femininity, love, loyalty and sacrifice.

The Frayed Atlantic Edge: A Historian’s Journey from Shetland to the Channel by David Gange

published by William Collins

Over the course of a year, leading historian and nature writer David Gange kayaked the weather-ravaged coasts of Atlantic Britain and Ireland from north to south: every cove, sound, inlet, island.

The idea was to travel slowly and close to the water, as millions did in eras when coasts were the main arteries of trade and communication, and so build a history of coastal living. Drawing on the archives of islands and coastal towns, as well as their vast poetic literatures, he shows that the neglected histories of these stunning regions are of real importance in understanding both the past and future of the whole archipelago.

The journey is one of staggering adventure, range and beauty. For too long the significance of coasts has been underestimated, and the potential of small boats as tools to make sense of their histories rarely explored. This book seeks to put that imbalance right.

Insurrection: Scotland’s Famine Winter by James Hunter

published by Birlinn

When Scotland’s 1846 potato crop was wiped out by blight, the country was plunged into crisis. In the Hebrides and the West Highlands a huge relief effort came too late to prevent starvation and death. Further east, meanwhile, towns and villages from Aberdeen to Wick and Thurso, rose up in protest at the cost of the oatmeal that replaced potatoes as people’s basic foodstuff.

Oatmeal’s soaring price was blamed on the export of grain by farmers and landlords cashing in on even higher prices elsewhere. As a bitter winter gripped and families feared a repeat of the calamitous famine then ravaging Ireland, grain carts were seized, ships boarded, harbours blockaded, a jail forced open, the military confronted. The army fired on one set of rioters. Savage sentences were imposed on others. But thousands-strong crowds also gained key concessions. Above all they won cheaper food.

Those dramatic events have long been ignored or forgotten. Now, in James Hunter, they have their historian. The story he tells is, by turns, moving, anger-making and inspiring. In an era of food banks and growing poverty, it is also very timely.

Surfacing by Kathleen Jamie

published by Sort of Books

Under the ravishing light of an Alaskan sky, objects are spilling from the thawing tundra linking a Yup’ik village to its hunter-gatherer past. In the shifting sand dunes of a Scottish shoreline, impressively preserved hearths and homes of Neolithic farmers are uncovered. In a grandmother’s disordered mind, memories surface of a long-ago mining accident and a ‘mither who was kind’.

In this luminous and acclaimed new essay collection, renowned author and poet Kathleen Jamie visits archeological sites and mines her own memories – of her grandparents, of youthful travels – to explore what surfaces and what reconnects us to our past. As always she looks to the natural world for her markers and guides. Most movingly, she considers, as her father dies and her children leave home, the surfacing of an earlier, less tethered sense of herself.

The Secret of the Dark Waterfall by Alexander McCall Smith

published by Birlinn

The School Ship Tobermory and its intrepid young crew are back in Hebridean waters. When a violent storm blows them off course to a remote island, they discover a fisherman’s journal written a hundred years ago which tells of a mysterious shipwreck crammed with treasure.

But without a precise location, where do they start looking? An extraordinary chance encounter gives them a valuable clue. Before long, Ben, Fee and their friends realize they are not the only ones searching for the lost wreck and must face a ruthless and determined adversary who will stop at nothing to seize the prize.

The Northern Highlands: Landscapes in Stone by Alan McKirdy

published by Birlinn

The rocks of northern Scotland tell of turbulent events involving continental collisions that unleashed cataclysmic forces, creating a chain of mountains, the remnants of which we see today on both sides of the Atlantic. Geologists from Victorian times onwards have studied the area, and some of the most important geological phenomena have been established and described from the rocks that built these stunning landscapes.

In this book, Alan McKirdy makes sense of the many and varied episodes that shaped the familiar landscape we see today. He highlights a number of fascinating geological features, including the Old Red Sandstones of Cromarty and the Black Isle, which carry the secrets of life during ‘the Age of Fishes’, and the thin sliver of fossil-bearing strata which hugs the coast from Golspie to beyond Helmsdale that dates back to Jurassic times and which records the time when dinosaurs roamed the Earth.

The Seafarers: A Journey Among Birds by Stephen Rutt

published by Elliott & Thompson

The British Isles are remarkable for their extraordinary seabird life: spectacular gatherings of charismatic Arctic terns, elegant fulmars and stoic eiders, to name just a few. Often found in the most remote and dramatic reaches of our shores, these colonies are landscapes shaped not by us but by the birds.

In 2015, Stephen Rutt escaped his hectic, anxiety-inducing life in London for the bird observatory on North Ronaldsay, the most northerly of the Orkney Islands. In thrall to these windswept havens and the people and birds that inhabit them, he began a journey to the edges of Britain. From Shetland, to the Farnes of Northumberland, down to the Welsh islands off the Pembrokeshire coast, he explores the part seabirds have played in our history and what they continue to mean to Britain today.

The Seafarers is the story of those travels: a love letter, written from the rocks and the edges, for the salt-stained, isolated and ever-changing lives of seabirds. This beguiling book reveals what it feels like to be immersed in a completely wild landscape, examining the allure of the remote in an over-crowded world.

Spring by Ali Smith,

published by Penguin Random House

What unites Katherine Mansfield, Charlie Chaplin, Shakespeare, Beethoven, Brexit, the present, the past, the north, the south, the east, the west, a man mourning lost times, a woman trapped in modern times?

Spring. The great connective.

With an eye to the migrancy of story over time, and riffing on Pericles, one of Shakespeare’s most resistant and rollicking works, Ali Smith tells the impossible tale of an impossible time. In a time of walls and lockdown, Smith opens the door.

The time we’re living in is changing nature.  Will it change the nature of story? Hope springs eternal.

Energy at the End of the World: An Orkney Islands Saga by Laura Watts

published by MIT Press

Making local energy futures, from marine energy to hydrogen fuel, at the edge of the world. The islands of Orkney, off the northern coast of Scotland, are closer to the Arctic Circle than to London. Surrounded by fierce seas and shrouded by clouds and mist, the islands seem to mark the edge of the known world. And yet they are a center for energy technology innovation, from marine energy to hydrogen fuel networks, attracting the interest of venture capitalists and local communities. In this book, Laura Watts tells a story of making energy futures at the edge of the world.

Moder Dy by Roseanne Watt

published by Polygon

‘The old Shetland fishermen still speak with something like reverence of the forgotten art of steering by the moder dy (mother wave), the name given to an underswell which it is said always travels in the direction of home’.

Written in English, interspersed with Shetlandic dialect throughout, this eagerly awaited debut collection from Shetland poet Roseanne Watt contains profound, assured and wilfully spare poems that are built from the sight, sound and heartbeat of the land as much as from the sea. In rigorously controlled, concise, and vivid language Watt offers glimpses of the landscape alongside which we find the most complex and mysterious of human experiences.

The Spirit of the Hebrides: Word and images inspired by Sorley MacLean by Alastair Jackson and Kenneth Steven

published by Saint Andrew Press

The Spirit of the Hebrides combines the poetry of Kenneth Steven with the photography of Alastair Jackson and features images of Skye and Raasay in homage to one of Scotland’s leading 20th century poets, Sorley McLean.

Kenneth Steven’s poetry reflects on the link between people, identity, spirituality and the land. Alastair Jackson’s photography captures the wilder and remoter parts of Skye and Raasay, often in bad weather, but showing a glimmer of sunshine and hope on the horizon.

The result is a beautiful and evocative book that explores the land and seascapes of these islands, their vast skies and their resilient, shifting beauty in all seasons and weathers.